Coronavirus Live Updates: Virus Response Widens Political Divide in Swing States

In swing states, the virus has become a polarizing issue.

In Wisconsin, residents woke up to a state of confusion on Thursday after the conservative majority on the State Supreme Court sided with the Republican majority in the Legislature on Wednesday night, overturning a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat.

In Michigan, hundreds of protesters, many of them armed, turned out at the State Capitol in a drenching rainstorm after the state had closed the Capitol and canceled the legislative session after threats directed toward Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for the Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, said that while some senators were concerned for their safety, that was not the main reason for canceling the session.)

And in Pennsylvania, some county lawmakers defied the Democratic governor’s orders to keep nonessential businesses closed. President Trump flew to Allentown on Thursday afternoon for a politically charged visit to a medical supply facility.

“You have the one group that’s like, ‘Yay!’” said Patty Schachtner, a Democratic state senator from western Wisconsin. “And the other group is like, ‘Man, life just got complicated.’”

In the three states that determined the 2016 presidential election — and could determine the one in 2020 — the response to the coronavirus is becoming a confused and agitated blend of health guidance, protest and partisan politics, leaving residents to fend for themselves.

“My anxiety for this pandemic is not having a unified plan, that we’re all on the same page, and listening to science and the same rules,” said Jamie O’Brien, 40, who owns a hair salon in Madison, Wis., that remains closed because of a local stay-at-home order.

Across Wisconsin, the court ruling left some residents in a festive mood; they headed to taverns to celebrate. Others were determined to stay home, just as they had been doing, worried that it was too soon to return to crowded restaurants and shops.

It was a microcosm of a country increasingly unable to separate bitter political divisions from plans to battle a deadly disease.

Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, backed by public health experts, have urged caution before reopening. Republican legislatures in those states have been pushing in the opposite direction, arguing that the extended restrictions are threatening their personal freedoms.

The White House threatens to veto Democrats’ $3 trillion relief bill on the eve of a House vote.

The White House threatened to veto a $3 trillion pandemic relief bill that Democrats planned to push through the House on Friday, as Republicans urged their members to reject a measure that they said was a nonstarter.

In a message to the House on Thursday, White House officials called the legislation insupportable and said Democrats who drafted it were “more concerned with delivering on longstanding partisan and ideological wish lists than with enhancing the ability of our nation to deal with the public health and economic challenges we face.”

On a day when the two-month tally of jobless claims reached 36.5 million, the statement hinted at what Republican leaders and White House officials have suggested in recent days: That they are not certain at the moment that additional economic aid measures will be needed, and that any such measure should be centered around tax cuts and liability protections for businesses.

House Republican leaders urged their members to vote against the legislation, saying, “Neither this bill nor anything like it will ever become law.”

Even as they prepared to muscle it through the House, Democrats were making last-minute revisions to the bill, including a provision to bar nonprofit organizations that had engaged in election activities, such as contributing to a political campaign, from receiving loans. They also added language ordering a study to examine the role of virus-related disinformation in the public’s response to the pandemic, as well as sources of the disinformation, “both foreign and domestic.”

A vast majority of Republicans appear likely to reject the bill for its price tag and scope, although Representative Peter King of New York told The Times on Wednesday that he would support it.

The whistle-blower who was ousted as head of a federal medical research agency charged on Thursday that top Trump administration officials failed to heed his early warnings to stock up on masks and other supplies to combat the coronavirus, and Americans died as a result.

“Lives were endangered and I believe lives were lost,” Dr. Rick Bright, who was removed in April as the director of the Department of Health and Human Service’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency, told a House subcommittee, as he warned, “The window is closing to address this pandemic.”

Throughout nearly four hours of testimony, Dr. Bright told lawmakers on a House health subcommittee that the outbreak would “get worse and be prolonged” if the United States did not swiftly develop a national testing strategy and predicted vaccine shortages if the administration does not draft a distribution plan now.

After holding back for nearly a month, President Trump and his health secretary, Alex M. Azar II, hit back at Dr. Bright, elevating the confrontation. Mr. Trump dismissed Dr. Bright as a “disgruntled employee” while Mr. Azar insisted officials followed through on the scientist’s ideas.

“Everything he was complaining about was achieved,” Mr. Azar told reporters as he and Mr. Trump were preparing to board the presidential helicopter to leave for Allentown, Pa. “What he talked about was done. He said he talked about the need for respirators. We procured respirators at the president’s direction. He said we need a Manhattan project on a vaccine. We had a Manhattan project.”

“This is like someone who was in choir trying to say he was a soloist back then,” Mr. Azar continued, adding, “His allegations do not hold water. They do not hold water.”

The president joined in, “I don’t know him. I never met. I don’t want to meet him but I watched him, and he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn’t do a very good job.”

Dr. Bright’s testimony marked the first time tat a federal scientist — or any federal official — has gone before Congress and openly accused the administration of endangering American lives by bungling its coronavirus response. He said Americans would face “the darkest winter in modern history” if the administration did move quickly, as people become “restless” to leave their homes.

That came two days after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, contradicted Mr. Trump by warning of “needless suffering and death” if states reopened too quickly, it amounted to a one-two punch for the administration.

Scattershot reopenings of retail stores, nail salons and restaurants around the country have not halted the flood of layoffs, with the government reporting on Thursday that nearly three million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the two-month tally to 36.5 million.

The weekly count of new claims has been declining since late March, but that hopeful flicker barely stands out in an otherwise grim economic landscape.

A new survey by the Federal Reserve found that in households making less than $40,000 a year, nearly 40 percent of those who were working in February lost their jobs in March or the beginning of April.

And despite attempts by states to keep up with the onslaught of claims, many workers remain supremely frustrated, either by their inability to submit applications or by payment delays.

In places where the fitful process of reopening has started, workers who have been called back to their jobs often face reduced hours and paychecks as well as heightened risk of infection. Declining to return, however — whether because of health concerns or the need to care for children while schools are closed — is likely to put an end to any jobless benefits.

“It’s a very tough choice for those in the service industry and those at the lower end of the pay scale,” said Rubeela Farooqi, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “Do you go back and risk getting sick, or have no money coming in?”

As job losses mounted, two ideologically opposed lawmakers came to the same conclusion: It is time for the federal government to cover workers’ salaries.

Representative Pramila Jayapal, a progressive Democrat from Washington, and Senator Josh Hawley, a conservative Republican from Missouri, are making the case to their party’s leaders that guaranteed income programs should be part of the federal relief effort.

Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, temporarily stepped down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, a day after F.B.I. agents seized his cellphone as part of an investigation into whether he sold hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stocks using nonpublic information about the virus.

Mr. Burr sold the stock in mid-February, before the market cratered and while Mr. Trump and some supporters were playing down the threat of the virus. At the same time, Mr. Burr was receiving briefings and involved in conversations suggesting that the country faced a growing health crisis that could hurt the economy.

The seizure and an accompanying search for his electronic storage accounts, which were confirmed by an investigator briefed on the case, represented a significant escalation of the inquiry by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission and suggests Mr. Burr, one of the most influential members of Congress, may be in serious legal jeopardy.

Given the sensitivity surrounding the decision to obtain a search warrant on a sitting senator, the move was approved at the highest levels of the department, a senior Justice Department official said, meaning that Attorney General William P. Barr signed off on it. The warrant to obtain Mr. Burr’s phone was served to his lawyer, and investigators took Mr. Burr’s phone from him at his home, according to the official who, like the investigator, was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The Justice Department declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. Burr declined to comment, and his lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The senator has denied he did anything wrong, insisting that he based his trading decisions exclusively on publicly reported information that he read in financial news media accounts out of Asia.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the existence of the search warrant.

Federal investigators have also scrutinized stock trades made by other senators around the same time, including those of Senators James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia; and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, according to a person briefed on those cases. All three have said they did nothing wrong.

Coughs or sneezes may not be the only way people transmit infectious pathogens like the coronavirus to one another. Talking can also propel thousands of droplets so small they can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes, according to a new study.

The research, published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how people with mild or no symptoms may infect others in close quarters such as offices, nursing homes, cruise ships and other confined spaces.

The study’s experimental conditions would need to be replicated in more real-world circumstances, and researchers still don’t know how much virus has to be transmitted from one person to another to cause infection. But its findings strengthen the case for wearing masks and taking other precautions to reduce the spread of the virus.

To see how many droplets were produced during normal conversation, researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the University of Pennsylvania, who study the kinetics of biological molecules inside the human body, asked volunteers to repeat the words “stay healthy” several times. While the participants spoke into the open end of a cardboard box, the researchers illuminated its inside with green lasers and tracked bursts of droplets.

The laser scans showed that about 2,600 small droplets were produced per second while talking. When researchers projected the amount and size of droplets produced at different volumes based on previous studies, they found that speaking louder could generate larger droplets, as well as greater quantities of them.

Although the scientists did not record speech droplets produced by people who were sick, previous studies have calculated exactly how much viral genetic material can be found in oral fluids in the average patient. Based on this knowledge, the researchers estimated that a single minute of loud speaking could generate at least 1,000 virus-containing droplets.

Ravi Sharma was doubled over on his bed when his father found him. He’d had a bad cough for a week and had self-quarantined in his bedroom. As an emergency medical technician, he knew he was at risk of infection with the virus.

Now, Mr. Sharma, 27, could not move the right side of his body, and he could only grunt in his father’s direction. His sister, Bina Yamin, on the phone with her father, could hear the sounds Mr. Sharma was making.

“Call 911,” she told her father. “I think Ravi’s having a stroke.” She was right.

Over the next few hours, doctors at a Queens hospital worked frantically to break up a blood clot blocking a main artery to Mr. Sharma’s brain. But the doctors were puzzled. Mr. Sharma was far too young for a stroke. He worked out every day and didn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure or the kinds of medical conditions that can set the stage for strokes in young people.

Neurologists in New York City, Detroit, New Jersey and in other parts of the country have reported a flurry of such cases. Many are now convinced that unexplained strokes are yet another insidious manifestation of Covid-19.

Though the strokes may be rare, they can have catastrophic consequences, including cognitive impairment, physical disability and even death.

“We’re seeing a startling number of young people who had a minor cough or no recollection of viral symptoms at all, and they’re self-isolating at home like they’re supposed to — and they have a sudden stroke,” said Dr. Adam Dmytriw, a University of Toronto radiologist who is one of the authors of a paper describing a series of patients who had strokes related to Covid-19.

For some of these patients, a stroke was the first symptom of a viral infection. They put off going to the emergency room because they didn’t want to be exposed to the virus.

“If you don’t get help, you risk being permanently disabled and needing long-term care,” said Dr. Johanna Fifi, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “It’s not going to go away on its own.”

California’s public universities, schools and health care providers face steep budget cuts, the governor says.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California proposed steep cuts to public schools and universities and health care among other programs as part of a revised state budget announced Thursday that reflected the sudden loss of income brought on by the pandemic.

The budget slashes spending by nine percent overall from the initial proposal the governor made in January.

“Our state is in an unprecedented emergency, facing massive job losses and shortfalls in record time,” he said in a letter to legislators. “This budget reflects that emergency.”

To cushion the blow of a projected 22 percent decline in revenue, the governor proposed drawing down the state’s so-called rainy day reserves of $16 billion over the next three years.

The $203.3 billion proposed budget, if approved by the Legislature, would bring spending back to around 2018 levels. But it would still be well above the levels seen during the Great Recession a decade ago.

Mr. Newsom said he would begin negotiating with unions to reduce the salaries of state employees by 10 percent. The pay cuts would include the governor and his staff. “We recognize these cuts are devastating to so many people,” he said.

Many of the proposed cuts could be canceled if the federal government agreed to additional assistance, the governor said. “The federal government, we need you,” Mr. Newsom said.

The revised budget also scratched more than $80 million that Mr. Newsom had allotted in January to expand the state’s version of Medicaid to undocumented people age 65 and over. The expansion, promised last year to progressives and the Legislature’s Latino caucus, had been a priority in the Legislature this year.

Mr. Newsom’s administration is projecting a nine percent drop in overall economic activity because of the crisis, according to the governor’s cabinet secretary. The state is also projecting that unemployment will peak at 25 percent this quarter, she said.

The leaders of the nation’s largest teacher’s union and parent volunteer organization pushed back on Mr. Trump’s efforts to reopen schools, saying only one official could reassure them that it was safe to welcome millions of students back.

“I’m waiting for Dr. Fauci,” Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said on a call with reporters on Thursday. “I’m waiting not for a politician; I’m waiting for a medical, infectious disease professional to say, ‘Now we can do it, under these circumstances.’”

Ms. Eskelsen García joined educators and members of the National PTA a day after Mr. Trump had rebuked Dr. Fauci for expressing caution about reopening schools. Dr. Fauci told a Senate panel on Tuesday that a vaccine for the virus would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year. “We better be careful, if we are not cavalier, in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects,” he said.

Dr. Fauci’s testimony irritated Mr. Trump, who believes that reopening schools is critical to restarting the economy and to his re-election campaign. “I totally disagree with him on schools,” Mr. Trump said in an interview on Fox Business on Thursday morning.

Health officials in New York are investigating more than 100 cases of a rare and dangerous inflammatory syndrome that afflicts children and appears to be connected to the virus. But Mr. Trump has repeatedly minimized the danger the virus poses to children, saying Wednesday: “Now when you have an incident, one out of a million, one out of 500,000, will something happen? Perhaps. But you can be driving to school and some bad things can happen, too.”

School leaders are bracing for severe budget cuts, as they anticipate large new expenses for additional staff members and protective equipment to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said Thursday on “CBS This Morning” that the president still had confidence in Dr. Fauci, but that they were “on opposite sides of the equation” when it came to reopening schools.

A Texas appeals court ruled against the state’s attorney general on Thursday and allowed voters who fear getting infected by the virus to cast mail-in ballots instead of showing up at the polls.

The ruling is likely only another step in a complex legal process, as other lawsuits on the state’s efforts to limit access to mail-in voting during the pandemic proceed in federal and state courts.

At issue are rules for casting mail-in ballots and whether healthy voters who fear contracting the virus at the polls qualify for such ballots as disabled voters. The Texas Democratic Party, voting rights groups and others who sued the state say they do. But the Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, has said that the election code “does not permit an otherwise healthy person to vote by mail merely because going to the polls carries some risk to public health.”

In a separate legal move on Wednesday, Mr. Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to order officials in five counties to stop encouraging voters to apply to vote by mail if they feared contracting the virus.

In the latest ruling on Thursday, the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a lower court order issued last month. In that order, a judge found that voting in person during the pandemic presented a likelihood of injuring a voter’s health, and that “any voters without established immunity meet the plain language definition of disability” and were entitled to mail in their ballots.

The appellate panel ruled that the lower court order remains in effect while further appeals are underway.

In New York, a five-county, central area has met the criteria to begin reopening some businesses this weekend, the governor said. Another 157 deaths were reported, the fourth straight day the figure was below 200.

State officials are now investigating 110 cases of a potentially life-threatening pediatric inflammatory syndrome that appears to be related to the virus and has so far been linked to three children’s deaths. (New York City’s mayor had said earlier in the day that city officials were investigating 100 cases.) Cases have been reported in other states, including California, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In New Jersey, beaches will open in a limited way by Memorial Day weekend, the governor said on Thursday, adding that local officials would be required to put distancing regulations in place, including limiting capacity and ensure six-foot distances. The state reported an additional 244 deaths, the first time in a week that the number rose above 200. (The state’s daily death tolls can fluctuate because they often include deaths from weeks ago that were only recently confirmed.)

In Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward counties, the state’s last remaining holdouts still shut down, will begin reopening on Monday, the governor and mayors from both counties announced on Thursday. (Beaches will remain closed.)

When is it safe to go back to the gym?

After a forced period of inactivity, many are wondering whether it is wise to return to shared exercise bikes, weights and treadmills. By their very nature, public athletic facilities tend to be breeding grounds for germs. But there are things you can do to mitigate the risk of infection if you want to get a workout in.

Keep up with Times correspondents around the world.

A commercial extolling Chinese youth, showed online and on state-run television, provoked an immediate nationwide backlash.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Kim Barker, Karen Barrow, Pam Belluck, Katie Benner, Alan Blinder, Julie Bosman, Emily Cochrane, Patricia Cohen, Michael Cooper, Catie Edmondson, Nicholas Fandos, Manny Fernandez, Thomas Fuller, Trip Gabriel, Michael Gold, Kathleen Gray, Erica L. Green, Amy Julia Harris, Rachel L. Harris, Tiffany Hsu, Shawn Hubler, Patricia Mazzei, Jesse McKinley, David Montgomery, Kay Nolan, Azi Paybarah, Roni Caryn Rabin, Katie Rogers, Marc Santora, Knvul Sheikh, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Eileen Sullivan, Lisa Tarchak and Neil Vigdor.


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